Syria's Assad denies Houla massacre role
President says killings were carried out by ‘monsters’; Opposition rubbishes ‘silly speech’
Syrian President Bashar Assad denied Sunday that his government had anything to do with last week’s gruesome Houla massacre, saying not even “monsters” would carry out such an ugly crime.
In a televised speech to parliament, Assad said his country is facing a “real war” and blamed foreign-backed terrorists and extremists for the bloodshed. He pledged to press ahead with his military crackdown. The president’s first comments on the massacre expressed horror over the deaths of more than 100 people, nearly half of them children.
UN investigators say there are strong suspicions that pro-government gunmen carried out the killings, but Assad denied that.
“If we don’t feel the pain that squeezes our hearts, as I felt it, for the cruel scenes — especially the children — then we are not human beings,” Assad said. His last public address was in January.
Assad, 46, denies that there is any popular will behind the uprising, saying foreign extremists and terrorists are driving the revolt.
His remarks suggest he is still standing his ground, despite widespread international condemnation over his deadly crackdown on dissent. Although his words reflected many of the same general points of his previous speeches — blaming terrorists and extremists, vowing to protect national security — his comments on Houla were widely anticipated.
“Not even monsters would carry out (the crimes) that we have seen, especially the Houla massacre... There are no Arabic or even human words to describe it,” he said.
The Syrian opposition brushed off his comments as lies. “It is a desperate and silly speech that does not merit a response,” said Adib Shishakly, a Saudi-based member of the country’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council. “He didn’t offer anything to the Syrian people during the 70 minutes he spoke.”
Shishakly, the grandson of a former president of Syria, described Assad’s statements on the Houla massacre as “lies to justify the killings because of the immense international pressure on his regime.”
Assad said his opponents have ignored his moves towards reform, including a referendum on a new constitution.